It has been eight months since the Tri-Cities Fever last played an Indoor Football League game at the Toyota Center.
In that contest, the Fever was favored, and it beat the Wichita Wild 51-30 in the Intense Conference Championship.
Fast forward to today, when the Fever plays the Nebraska Danger in Tri-Cities’ home opener, with kickoff at 7:05 p.m.
The Fever enters tonight’s game with an 0-1 record, losing 42-38 to the Colorado Ice on March 1.
Nebraska comes into today’s contest with a 2-0 record, with a stunning 30-21 win over two-time defending champion Sioux Falls and a 73-50 rout of the Colorado Ice.
“We’re the underdog, I assume,” Fever coach Adam Shackleford said. “I don’t mind playing that role. They’re 2-0. They beat the defending league champs. I can’t imagine us being the favorite.”
Shackleford goes a step further.
“I think they’re the best team in the league,” Shackleford said. “They’re getting great quarterback play. They’re big up front. And they have the best receiving corps in the league up to this point.”
Whoa now, says Nebraska coach Mike Davis. This isn’t going to be easy.
“They’re tough,” Davis said of the Fever. “They’re big up front. They’re athletic on defense. Every one of Shack’s teams is usually one of the best teams in the league. We are in for a dogfight. What have they lost in the last two seasons, like four games?”
That was then. This is now. Tri-Cities has been banged up. Running back Keola Antolin broke his hand in the opener, and receiver Dejuan Miller broke a bone in his foot before the opener. Both are on injured reserve.
Receiver Steven Whitehead may or may not play tonight after getting banged up in the opener. But veteran receiver Ed Berry, who left the opener with a concussion, should be ready to go.
Meanwhile, Davis admits his team has been banged up. Still, his roster is loaded with experience.
“We’ve got 16 guys back from last year,” Davis said. “We signed another couple of veterans.”
That includes All-IFL receiver Andre Piper-Jordan, who played for Everett last season. Throw in returner Kayne Farquharson, a second-team All-IFL receiver last season, and it’s easy to see why quarterback Jameel Sewell has had success this season.
“Sewell was actually our backup quarterback last season from Week 6 on,” Davis said. “His first start against Sioux Falls, he struggled a bit. I don’t know if it was nerves.”
But against the Storm, the Danger defense played great.
“Defensively, they played the best game that I’ve ever seen,” Davis said. “Of course, we had a great bounce back game by giving up 50 points. But our offense scored 73 points the next week. If we could have that every week, it would be nice. But that’s tough to ask.”
The two biggest matchups tonight will be the line play, and the passing game.
“Our secondary against their receivers is gonna be a good matchup,” said Shackleford.
The Fever boasts Lionell Singleton, Rudell Crim and rookie Gary Wilburn in that secondary. But it just got better this week with the return of Dennis Rogan — an All-IFL performer in 2011 who was injured last year.
Davis is going to like it, anyway.
“It’s gonna be fun to watch,” he said.
Notes: Davis did lose OL Tony Washington and RB C.J. Gable to the Canadian Football League this week. The Fever will raise its Intense Conference banner to the rafters before the game. Fever kicker Brady Beeson, who struggled a bit in the opener, spent part of the week in Miami working with a kicking coach. To make room for Rogan, the Fever released DT Chris Donaldson. Shackleford activated RB Keithon Flemming and released DB TraVaun Nixon.